In a posting to his blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education, William Pannapacker identified the Digital Humanities as an emerging trend at the 2009 Modern Language Association Convention.
Amid all the doom and gloom of the 2009 MLA Convention, one field seems to be alive and well: the digital humanities. More than that: Among all the contending subfields, the digital humanities seem like the first “next big thing” in a long time, because the implications of digital technology affect every field.
I think we are now realizing that resistance is futile. One convention attendee complained that this MLA seems more like a conference on technology than one on literature. I saw the complaint on Twitter.
The following year, he was able to say the discipline had arrived.
The digital humanities are not some flashy new theory that might go out of fashion. At this point, the digital humanities are The Thing. There’s no Next about it. And it won’t be long until the digital humanities are, quite simply, “the humanities.”
As Pannapacker noted here and in yet another posting on the topic, these observations were met with some unease in the discipline. Some resented the perceived implication that the digital humanities were new; others were concerned about his observation that the field was beginning to take on the trappings of previous trendy topics, most notoriously the cliquishness and focus on exclusivity thought to be characteristic of “Big Theory.”
But I think at least some of this unease may have its origins in a problem of definition that Pannapacker’s observations raise. If the Digital Humanities is the “next big thing,” does this mean that it is like the “things” that preceded it?